Europe’s Big five and where to find them

Surely everybody has heard about Africa’s big five, the elephantlionleopard buffalo, and rhinoceros. Perhaps our most safari-experienced readers already have fully fulfilled their bucket list in Africa. But many people in Europe don’t know that the continent is home to equally impressive creatures of incommensurable ecological value.

Photography credits: Staffan Widstrand

The term big five was first coined by hunters in Africa referring to the most difficult animals to hunt. Many years later the term is used also in Europe to talk about animals that are protected, reintroduced, and are a source of tourist attraction and economic development in many depopulated areas across Europe.

In 2014 the Flemish TV show “The Big5 of Europe” gave IUCN (International Union Conservation Nature) their pick for Europe’s most important animals. They were chosen after travels to the wildest and most remote parts of the continent and judged on appearance, importance, rareness, behavior, and emotions they triggered.  

Today these 5 impressive carnivorous mammals can be found closer to home than you think. Ready to learn more about Europe’s Big Five?

Bison

In 1927 the last wild European bison was shot. The species was able to survive thanks to 54 bison that were kept in zoos. Rewilding Europe, in partnership with WWF Romania, started in 2014 to reintroduce the European bison into the Țarcu Mountains in Romania.

Bison are attractive for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. In the Southern Carpathians, the animals’ are a driver to stimulate the local economy through nature-based tourism. Bison tracking safaris, offered through the European Safari Company, are an increasingly popular and adventurous way to learn more about conservation while enjoying a sustainable holiday.

Wolf

A long history of wolf hunting and persecution at the beginning of the 20th century caused the disappearance of the wolf from most western counties. Nowadays the opinion on wolves is changing and the animal is now protected in most European countries. 

There are five subspecies of grey wolf found in Europe. The Eurasian wolf is found in four of our rewilding areas: the Velebit Mountains, Rhodope MountainsSouthern Carpathians, and Oder Delta. The Italian grey wolf is found in the Central Apennines rewilding area. And the Iberian wolf subspecies is found in the Greater Côa Valley rewilding area.

Wolves can be seen during our Wolf tracking safaris in Central Apennines, where you can spend a few days with specialized guides who will teach you how to track and approach wildlife in the most respectful way possible. In the Greater Coa Valley there is also an opportunity to go on dusk and dawn wolf safaris with biologist Duarte Pereira.

Brown Bear

The brown bear has been endangered for decades across Europe. This iconic species has made people unhappy or uncomfortable with their presence for many years. Lately, a sense of pride is growing in the villages or towns in the surroundings of bears' habitats in the fact that these creatures are living in their neighborhood.

With around 60 Marsican brown bears remaining in the Central Apennines, their situation is precarious. These numbers are more optimistic for in the populations of European Brown Bears in Croatia and Slovenia. Current rewilding efforts focus on the development of “coexistence corridors”, which enable the bears to move safely between natural parks and reserves.

Rewilding Europe and European Safari Company promote human-animal coexistence, by making sure local people and communities benefit economically from the resurgence. In the Central Apennines rewilding area you can go hiking and wildlife spotting with our professional CETS certified guides and sleep in the restored high-altitude shepherd’s hut, Terraegna Refuge. In 2019 we received 350 guests in the refuge.

Bears can also be spotted from our local bear hides in the Velebit MountainsTwo hides opened in 2016, and are the best way of encountering Velebit wildlife up close and make the perfect choice for nature lovers, scientists, and wildlife photographers. Our packages in Slovenia also pose the opportunity to spot these amazing creatures.

Wolverine

The wolverine was historically an inhabitant of Scandinavia and eastern Europe, but their number declined from the mid-19th century due to hunting. The species was considered functionally extinct in Norway by the 1960s. Recovery started from as early as the 1970s in some countries, thanks to legal protection, and the implementation of a conservation system.

Nowadays there are small populations of Wolverines living in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Seeing one in nature is quite difficult but a treat to the eyes. European Safari Company offers winter and summer experiences in Swedish Lapland where you can hike, husky sled, enjoy the sauna, and spot some reindeers and moose with luck.

Lynx

The Eurasian lynx was considered extinct in nearly the whole of Central Europe for 200 years after decades of persecution. In the 1970s it began to be accepted by the general public and reintroduction efforts started. The Iberian lynx is one of Europes biggest conservation successes. With the help of a captive breeding program, the numbers have risen from 94 in 2002 to nearly 600 today.

Both the Eurasian and Iberian lynx are of cultural importance, and they are increasingly important for wildlife tourism. The Eurasian lynx is found in the Velebit Mountains, and Slovenia while the Iberian Lynx roams in some territories in Portugal. Seeing one in the wilderness is a rare delight many experts and guides still dream about. 

So now you know which animals are the big five of Europe. At the European Safari Company we offer personal travel advice for all our safari lovers. Is there a specific species in your mind that your interested in seeing? Reach out to us and we will always recommend the best experiences, guides and times of the year to travel.